I came along in the new age of modern machinery but I would listen closely to stories Granddad would tell of more simpler times and his powerful work-horse named Dan. Granddad would take a minute and drift back to a fond memory of days when he and his big workhorse could overcome any obstacle or load. Dan’s mighty shoulders and legs were made for one thing, to carry or pull an enormous load. Now Dan was long gone when I came of age but his collar or yoke hung proudly in the barn on a nail just outside the horse stalls. I can only imagine the power this horse had as I had firsthand experience with my uncle’s riding horses and quickly gained a respect for their strength, and I knew just how much bigger and massive that this four legged beast was that plowed the fields, pulled the wagons and uprooted the virgin tree stumps. Granddad and Grandma are also long gone from this life but hanging in my basement on a nail is the yoke that carved their family farm out of the ground and sustained us for generations.
In the Gospel reading this morning we heard of a similar type of collar: “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. “Take up My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls. “For My yoke is good and My burden is light.” [Mt. 11:28-30] St. Theophylact explains it as such: “All the commandments of Christ are also called a yoke, and they are light because of the reward to come, even through for a time they appear heavy. (The Explanation of Theophylact, The holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, pg. 99)
Archpriest John Moses attaches our yoke squarely on our shoulders in this way: “The Lord makes it sound so simple and so inviting. Rest is found by taking His yoke and learning about Him. Why is it then that so few are willing to do it? We seem almost like masochists who prefer to suffer instead of rest. Here is a way offered to us by God, a way to be at rest, but we would rather take upon ourselves the yoke of the worldliness and sin. Why would we prefer a hard yoke to an easy one?
The answer is that we believe the yoke of the Lord is too heavy. It is too much to ask that we pray. It is too hard to fast. It is too much to ask that they spend 4 hours out of their week to come to the liturgies of the church. It is too much to ask that they come to Sunday school or Bible Study. It is too much to ask that they confess regularly. The yoke is too heavy. Refusing the yoke of the Lord, we struggle and suffer under the yoke of life’s demands. Weakened by the yoke of the world, there is little defense against the devil, the world, and the flesh.
There’s so much suffering in families today, even Orthodox families. Many wives suffer because their husbands refuse to serve them as Christ serves the Church. Instead of taking the Lord’s yoke of service, men demand that they be served. When wives fail to serve them because of weakness or frustration, they resort to anger and sullenness, mental and even physical abuse. Husbands suffer because while they serve as best they can, wives refuse to show them honor and love. Men feel belittled by the sharp words of criticism from their wives. Parents suffer because children will not be obedient to them, and children suffer because parents forget that they are not to “stir their children to wrath.”
There’s suffering at the Church today. We are told to forgive each other, but often we hold grudges. We are called to bear each other’s burdens, but we are too busy sharing our burdens than to bear them. We are called to build each other up, but we tear each other down. We are supposed to speak the truth in love, but we whisper behind doors. We are to admonish each other “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord,” but we admonish with biting words and harsh criticisms, or show a cold shoulder to the offender. Instead of sitting with visitors or the elderly or the youth so that we might share our faith and build them up, we sit with friends who can match our sophistication and wit. Some members of our church are lonely or hurting – do you know who they are? To the Church, the Lord says, “take my yoke.” We refuse and so there is much suffering at Church. As a result, the Church is not a place of rest.” (Archpriest John Moses - Why Is the Yoke of Christ Easy? https://www.pravmir.com/why-is-the-yoke-of-christ-easy/)
Saint John Chrysostom encourages us this way: “But if virtue seems a difficult thing, consider that vice is more difficult....Sin too has labor, and a burden that is heavy and hard to bear....For nothing so weighs upon the soul, and presses it down, as consciousness of sin; nothing so gives it wings, and raises it on high, as the attainment of righteousness and virtue....If we pursue such a philosophy, all these things are light, easy, and pleasurable....Virtue’s yoke is sweet and light....Put thyself under this yoke with all forwardness, and then thou shalt know well the pleasure of it. For it doth not at all bruise thy neck, but is put on thee for good order’s sake only, and to persuade thee to walk seemly, and to lead thee unto the royal road, and to deliver thee from the precipices on either side, and to make thee walk with ease in the narrow way.” [Hom. 38,P.G.57:428-431(cols.431-434).]
We simply too need to hang our yoke on nail, the nail that pierced the flesh of our Savior as He lovingly hung on the cross for our salvation. Just as big Dan carved out existence for our family, the very teachings and examples given to us by Christ will fully sustain your family now and in the next life. This is the yoke you need to clamp on tight upon your shoulders. This is the yoke that awaits you each and every day. This is what you were made for! And I pray that your efforts will be as mighty and as powerful as that massive work-horse Dan that day after day, week after week stuck his big neck into the collar and went to work.
Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-18-2022
And in order not to be timid and low-spirited, always remember that where the sorrows of the world are, this is where there is the heavenly consolation of the Holy Spirit. The more our nature fights and opposes us, the more Grace helps us, which is stronger than nature. So, it is a yoke what we carry, but it is a sweet yoke, it is a load, but it is a light load. Because what nature makes heavy, Grace relaxes it in a miraculous way. It is sorrow and yoke, but the power of the mercy of the Divine Grace wears away the weight of the yoke and eliminates it. So, if with the thought of the yoke, you become timid and careless and lazy, let you become willing to fight with the thought of the mercy of the Divine Grace and even more with the expectations of the treasure of the eternal Happiness. From the book Salvation of the Sinners by Monk Agapios Landos of the 17th century